Middletown – Democrat Stephanie Hansen, Republican John Marino, and Libertarian Joseph Lanzendorfer faced off Wednesday, February 8, 2017 in Middletown.
Arriving audience members were asked to submit written questions that would be read by the moderator. As the debate opened the audience observed a moment of silence for the ongoing hostage situation that was unfolding in Smyrna. WDEL’s Allan Loudell, the debate moderator, shifted to the audience questions and first up was the economy.
Stephanie Hansen was asked what her vision was for Delaware’s economy. Hansen replied “with regard to the deficit we can’t raise taxes right off the bat” “We have a structural problem with regard to our revenue streams” “We’re spending too much time getting abandoned property and lottery proceeds, these are unstable” She went on to say “the largest part of revenue should be personal income tax”.
Hansen’s plan relies on long term economic growth to get Delaware out of the financial situation it currently finds itself in. She said “strategic economic development that is the key to getting us out of the economic situation which is directly tied to jobs”.
Lanzendorfer went through the previous year’s budget pointing out where he would cut programs. He went on to identified a spending category marked as “other” and said he wouldn’t touch any programs except those in the “other” category.
When it came time for Marino to speak he said, “We Have Big Problems in Delaware right now folks” following with “The bottom line is we have spending problem”.
Marino went on to say “We have a government right now that is $350 million dollars in a budget shortfall and the governor has already come out in his proposed budget address and indicated that there is going to be $250 million dollars of additional tax increase and fees put on individuals and businesses in the state”.
Marino explained that Delaware is having problems keeping good jobs in the state saying “We are losing jobs in this state we are losing good paying salaries in this state and we are also more importantly losing careers”. His main message to the audience in the auditorium and the radio listeners was “We have to get this spending under control”.
Marino continued by saying “over the last 9 or 10 years this government has spent over $750 million of our tax money on additional spending” therein lies the problem we need to set up a metric where we can analyze where our state tax money is being allocated to and be sure that whatever programs and organizations the money is going to that they are functioning properly, that they are successful and if they are not we need to start cutting funding to some of those programs”.
Hansen reflected on her time in county government, telling audience members that bringing in outside consultants saved taxpayer dollars during her stint on the New Castle County Council. One example she gave was getting rid of positions that weren’t filled. Saying “we did away with a lot of the positions that weren’t filled”.
An enthusiastic cheer filled the auditorium when Marino said “I don’t think we need anymore outside consultants”. Marino continued “we have plenty of intelligent people in this state, we have legislators in this state that analyze the state budget and where the money is being allocated too, we have members on the joint finance committee”.
Marino followed up by saying “what we have here is a problem in government where our elected officials hold a lack of regard or respect for taxpayer money. They’re looking at big numbers and they don’t recognize that the money is coming from businesses and individuals. We need to tighten our belt and as I said before we need to put a metric in to analyze where the money is being spent.
A defensive Hansen quickly jumped in and said “It doesn’t have to be an outside consultant, that’s simply what we did at New Castle County” Her supporters responded with a applause.
Lanzendorfer entered the fray by stating that he agreed with Mr. Marino. “I don’t think we have a revenue problem we have a spending problem. While creating jobs and therefore increasing revenue is great that’s not the really problem”, said Lanzendorfer.
When the candidates were asked if they had any novel ideas to generate revenue for the state they had very different responses.
Hansen said, “we need to spend money on things that are going to return to us more then were spending on them”. Lanzendorfer idea was the legalization and taxing of cannabis, stating that many state legislators are in favor of the idea. During his answer the moderator interrupted Lanzendorfer and threw the legalization question to Marino.
Marino said, “I’ll give you my honest answer. If the idea is to legalize marijuana in the State of Delaware strictly for revenue generation then I am not on board with that at all” “You can not put the government in the position to collect revenue from marijuana and spend it frivolously as they have spent our money on every other project”
Hansen was not asked the cannabis question. Marino didn’t get a chance to answer the novel idea question as Loudell moved on to education.
Lanzendorfer, who said he was in favor of vouchers and charter schools went back to the idea of legalization and taxing cannabis. He said that he was only in favor of legalization if the revenue generated was earmarked for education.
Marino said “when you get up into the Newark area and speak to the parents it is quite sad how many parents have zero confidence in our public education system and its not because of the teachers, its not because of the parents and its certainly not because of our children. It’s because of government bureaucracy dumping mandates on our teachers on what to teach, how to teach it and putting so much focus on state testing, taking our teachers out of the classroom”
He went on “One of my biggest priorities to move the economic engine in this state and to bring businesses here and retain them is to fix the perception of our public education system and it is a priority that must be done and we need to get the teachers the resources they need, eliminate top heavy administrative cost and get the money into the classroom once and for all” The audience and even Lanzendorfer burst in to applause.
Hansen received applause when she said “I’m a proud supporter of the public education system” She went on to say that she agreed with Marino regarding state testing. She said “I think our
problem is that we are spending far too much time on standardized testing. I think were spending too much resources on it and its not really giving the information that we need about out students and its not telling us how good a job our teachers are doing either”
Hansen said that she was in favor of the proposed “Opt Out” legislation that would allow students to opt out of standardized tests if passed.
Marion took issues with Hansen’s claim that she was in favor of “Opt Out”. Saying ” But I find it interesting that my opponent is speaking on opt out now when she had a completely different position on her website just a few days ago. I find that kind of unusual”
“Stop!” Hansen replied. “My position was never opposite of “Opt Out” I don’t think I had a position I brought it up now because I now have the position. But from someone to sit up here and say you want to help the public school system who actively worked against the Appoquinimink referendum I find that very hypocritical”
The candidates where asked where they agreed with their political party.
Marino started by saying “I’m an individual” “I’m a fiscal conservative, I’m a member of the State of Delaware with my family and I care deeply deeply about this state and the community and the opportunities for people to thrive. I don’t necessarily need to align myself with any particular party” He went on to say “If you speak to people on the issues it doesn’t matter what party you’re a part of.”
Hansen said she is a fiscally conservative, socially liberal Democrat. “maybe more conservative than others”, Hansen added.
Hansen agreed with Marino that party was not the overwhelming factor for her as well. She said “In Delaware we expect our elected officials not to be straight party all of the time”
When the candidates were asked where they disagreed with their party Marino reminded the audience that he was an individual thinker and he didn’t think party was the deciding factor in his beliefs.
Lanzendorfer said that he doesn’t agree with the wing of his party that is for banning public education.
Hansen began by saying “I have no fundamental difference with the values of my party at this time”.
Loudell asked Hansen if being a fiscal conservative meant she felt that the national party was less fiscally conservative than she would like? It took a few seconds, a couple of false starts and several hand gestures to get a “no not so much” from Hansen. It was clearly a question she wasn’t prepared for.
Clean Energy & Coastal Zone Act
Lanzendorfer “Delaware does not exist inside a bubble. Air pollution from other states and all the countries around us comes to Delaware”
He continued “We need a more competitive energy policy. Delaware gets 85% of it energy from natural gas and it only supplies 2/3 of the energy to the state. We have to bring in another 1/3 of our energy from other states.”
Following with “So we can pass all of these laws making energy greener in our state but if were bringing that energy in from states that use coal to generate electricity then its actually has a larger carbon footprint”
Lanzendorfer went on to say that he agreed that Delaware needs to protect the beaches and the coastal zone.
When Marino was called on he brought up Bloom Energy. He said, “Bloom Energy that’s a topic I speak about as I’m going around to communities every single day”
“Bloom Energy, my friends, is a complete failure by the Jack Markell administration” said Marino. Many in the audience began to cheer.
Marino continued “What he has done in an attempt to create jobs in Delaware he has taken hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money, to the tune of well over 240 million dollars; 18 million of which was given to Bloom Energy. Not only was it given to Bloom Energy they promised us almost a 1000 jobs and I’m going to break this down for you. They promised us almost a 1000 jobs five years ago, we gave them 18 million dollars of taxpayer money, not only did we give them 18 million dollars of tax payer money through a mandate by Governor Jack Markell, every single Delmarva Power rate payer in the state of Delaware pays a subsidy every single month of at least five or six dollars for the next 20 years.”
Hansen said the she agreed with Marion. “Bloom Energy was a bad deal that the prior administration struck for us”
She went on to say that she is an environmental attorney and that she has been working on environmental issues for many years.
All of the candidates agreed that the involvement and business can coexist in Delaware.
When asked if Delaware should use taxpayer dollars to sue the Trump administration for recent national immigration issues Hansen and Lanzendorfer both said they would be in favor of the idea.
Hansen explained “These are refugees that have been vetted through a long and arduous federal system in many cases its taken two years to ban them at this point and turn them back to their homeland, where their going to likely be place in a very dangerous situation I think is antithetical to what this county stands for.”
She went on to say that “this is a constitutional right”.
Lanzendorfer said he agreed with Hansen saying “I agree with Mrs Hansen this is un-American. Keep in mind this is not just immigrants, there are green card holders, there are people who live in this country who have been in this country for 20 years, and this is tearing families apart. It is un-American”
Marino said he wanted to serve the needs of Delaware taxpayers before involving the state in a national litigation. He went on “I am a loving and compassionate person and I care about all people, but we also must make sure that taxpayer resources are first utilized for the citizens of the state of Delaware”. His comment drew another roar of support from the crowd.
Although the candidates were divided on the issues like abortion and right to work they did agreed many other issues. All three candidates agreed on combating Heroin addiction, the death penalty, the states treatment of state employees, annexation powers, crime in Wilmington and several other issues.
The three candidates were all well informed, but it was Hansen’s use of the Democrat talking points that stood out. Her quip about “Alternative Facts”, when discussing how long the Democrats have held power in Delaware, got laughs but seemed out of place and practiced.
There are arguments for all of the candidates. They all say they’re fiscally conservative which sits nicely with District 10 voters.
The argument for Lanzendorfer is that he would make District 10 the deciding vote in the Senate.
The argument for Hansen is that she would allow the the Democrats to retain control of the Senate and maintain the status quo. Keeping the senate may be good for the Democratic Party but its doubtful that Hansen’s fiscally conservative voice would carry the day in Dover.
Marino, a successful business man and former cop would shake things up in Delaware. If Marino were to be elected the State Senate would change hands and the “unchecked spending” would come to an end. He would undoubtedly be an instant star in his party and District 10 would most likely have a strong voice in Dover.
The election for the District 10 State Senate seat will be held on February 25, 2017.
Image Credits: First State Update